[[Publisher’s note: We have heard your feedback on the same-ness of this article from week to week and are working to address it. While we would love to offer the most in-depth and cutting edge analysis available, there are only so many different ways to say that Green Devotion is still the best deck in the format, so sometimes this article may seem redundant and repetitive. Some aspects of this article will remain the same each week, such as the explanations of how we utilize data and the overview of how each deck operates. However we will be making a concerted effort to rework and reword the things that do change to keep this article as exciting and worth your time as possible. Thanks again to all of you who want to see us at our best week in and week out.]]
Each week, we here at Playing Pioneer take a deep dive into the Magic Online results for Pioneer. We take what data we do have and break down what decks sit where in the overall metagame of Pioneer. These tier lists include a rolling average to ensure decks don’t move too volatility on the tier list after one good week. If you’re looking for an example of that tier list, here is this week’s tier list.
This metagame breakdown article will accompany that tier list each Wednesday and will go over the top decks, why they have seen increases, decreases, or stagnation in play, and cover why each deck may stand out as a contender in the metagame.
So, let’s break down the various events we are drawing data from this week!
This week we have our standard set of data looking at the Magic Online Pioneer Challenge along with a Magic Online Championship Series Showcase Challenge, and various Preliminary events throughout the week. We are also covering the 5k Trial hosted by NerdRageGaming that took place on the 6th. We are omitting data from the Saturday event as cross-format Team events don’t give reliable data because the other formats can and have carried otherwise lackluster decks to the top. For the Challenges, we are looking at all decks that earned the same number of points as the player in 16th in each event and for the Preliminary events we are looking at all 4-0 and 3-1 decks.
Each of these finishes are called ‘qualified finishes’ and are part of how we determine which decks have seen success over the past weekend. While the number of finishes isn’t the only factor in determining how a deck moves, it can serve as a backbone to various arguments for moving a deck up or down the rankings.
Now that we’ve covered our data set, let’s get into the decks that will show up at your upcoming events!
Decks in this tier are the most heavily played and format dominant. These decks are the core that the rest of the meta revolves around. Players should be prepared to face these decks multiple times throughout a given event.
Deck Overview: Rakdos Midrange is the premier midrange deck in Pioneer. It continually puts up top results thanks to a mix of proliferation and popularity within the player base and its inherent strength as a strategy due to its discard, removal, and difficult to answer threats.
Why it’s in this tier: Rakdos continues to leverage its early discard backed by removal and efficient two-for-ones to lead the way in Pioneer. Over the past few weeks, we have seen the chokehold that Rakdos Midrange has held on the format slowly slip, culminating this week where Rakdos barely maintains third place in the number of most qualifying finishes. With only ten finishes, though five in the two challenges, this leads to questions moving into The Brother’s War if people have found answers to Rakdos Midrange or if the deck just doesn’t deliver that same satisfaction that it used to.
Rakdos sits in S tier this week mostly based on previous results, as the deck has still been top three in finishes since the printing of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse in Dominaria United. However, with the rise of decks that can adequately attack Rakdos and the sheer density of Devotion players in the format, I suspect that we are in for a change in the coming weeks in terms of Rakdos’ hold on the top tables of Pioneer.
Deck Overview: Green Devotion is a ramp deck that leverages powerful Planeswalkers and high toughness threats to control the board before comboing the opponent with The Chain Veil and any mix of planeswalkers who untap Chain Veil on repeat while accruing additional value, finishing things off with Pestilent Cauldron.
Why it’s in this tier: Green Devotion had an excellent week this week, with high representation at the NRG on top of it’s usual dominance of the online platforms. While often stuck playing second fiddle to Rakdos in terms of popularity, this week the deck was able to hold on to a top-two spot alongside Izzet Phoenix. Its whopping 23 qualifying finishes make it look poised to utterly command the format through the upcoming RCs and Brother’s War Release.
The future of this deck is beginning to look bleak. The community has already pinpointed the most optimal cards from the new set that will be replacing some key components in current lists, for the most part as strict upgrades. This, combined with the decks current chokehold on the format, leaves us skeptical that the deck will survive in the format unchanged for much longer. Devotion is the clear target next week as we move into the US Regional Championship and SCG Con Philly.
Decks in this tier are generally on the same power level as those above it, and consistently post top results at events. However, due to certain factors like deck population or weakness in a key matchup they are not as format dominant.
Deck Overview: Leveraging some of the best two-drop creatures in the format along with the best cantrips, draw spells, and removal, Izzet Phoenix looks to take control of the game from turn one and eventually turn a corner to finish with a huge, difficult to deal with threat.
Why it’s in this tier: Last week we saw the rebirth of Izzet Phoenix as it rose towards the top of the Pioneer metagame. This week it didn’t fly quite as high in terms of quantity of finishes with 20 total, but there were several standout performances among those with Phoenix winning both challenges on Magic Online and putting up a total of nine qualifying finishes from those two events. This deck continues to impress as it attacks the meta game from a unique angle that decks somehow still struggle to cleanly address.
One of the weaknesses of Izzet Phoenix has always been Rakdos Midrange, but as the metagame share of that deck begins to slip, the good matchups for Phoenix take up more space on our list. With a solid matchup into Mono Green – especially when playing more than one Thing in the Ice – Phoenix gains a lot of ground from the rise of Midrange-killer decks aimed at Rakdos. Since those decks tend to extend the game, as is the case with Enigmatic Incarnation, that means that Phoenix decks have time to filter through their options, find the best cards for the situation, and then turn the corner with Arclight Phoenixes, Ledger Shredders, and Hall of Storm Giants. Overall, Phoenix’s popularity is quickly rising, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see this deck return to the S-tier soon, depending on how The Brother’s War shapes things out.
Deck Overview: Humans is an aggressive tribal strategy which leverages the synergy between creatures of the type, creating huge threats with +1/+1 counters while disrupting the opponent’s strategy through a myriad of minor inconveniences. The Mono-White build focuses on the strength of Brave the Elements and its ability to work offensively or defensively against any deck in the format.
Why it’s in this tier: Mono White Humans managed to put up strong results this weekend with eight qualifying finishes, tying it for fourth place. While the other deck with as many finishes is relatively new to the format, Humans has been a staple in the Pioneer metagame for what feels like years now. Thanks to strong aggressive creatures with good synergy, this deck can punish slower draws and decks without much interaction. Thanks to Brave the Elements, that can often include Mono Green as well, which is a big benefit for the deck with the way that things are currently shaking out. The uptick in Izzet Phoenix isn’t something that Humans players want to see, but it is still a matchup that has enough wiggle room and nuance to try and fight through as well, meaning that Humans should continue to hold its position for a good while moving forward.
With eight qualifying finishes, including five in the challenges, Humans remains the top Aggro deck in Pioneer right now. It may also have a few new pieces coming in The Brother’s War, so we will have to see how it stands after the new set releases. If we continue to see Mono Green at the top of the metagame, that will certainly continue to help Mono White Humans maintain at least an A rating.
Decks in this tier are proven performers with strong finishes that will reward good player skill/dedicated play. However, they generally lack a certain level of power/consistency to take them to the winner’s podium on a regular basis.
Deck Overview: Taking advantage of some difficult to interact with threats in Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and Esika’s Chariot, Gruul Vehicles looks to offer that “big zoo” type gameplan of being the aggro deck that goes larger than the other aggro decks.
Why it’s in this tier: Gruul Vehicles continues to impress with three qualifying finishes including two in the challenges. While the deck is a step slower than most builds of Gruul that we’re used to, it manages to leverage that higher curve to grind out opposing midrange decks thanks to its namesake vehicles. These artifacts are some of the best tools at grinding through the red removal that the most popular decks in the format are packing as they have strong enter the battlefield abilities and continue to threaten moving forward while dodging sorcery speed interaction entirely.
This deck really acts as a Green Red Midrange deck between its ability to grind in the main deck against the likes of Rakdos and Phoenix, while also being able to slim down in games two or three against control. If the meta game ever shifts back to where it was a few months ago with Azorius as a top performer, then this deck will likely suffer a bit, but for now The Boat™ will continue to thrive in this Midrange world.
Deck Overview: This deck is the turbo-version of the Greasefang archetype, looking to use the namesake to cheat out the biggest vehicles in the format from the graveyard to deal massive damage as quickly as possible.
Why it’s in this tier: Looking at the results from the past few weekends, it’s clear that Abzan Greasefang has struggled somewhat in the jockey for positioning amongst the other top contenders in the format. With only six qualifying finishes this week – with notably zero at the NRG – Greasefang definitely feels like it’s filling more of a niche than an active role in the format’s development. The deck is incredibly powerful when left to its own devices, however Pioneer isn’t so much the “ships passing in the night” format that some others are and depending on an opponent to provide zero interaction isn’t a strong strategy right now.
Abzan is the most glass-cannon of the three established variants of the Greasefang strategy, and as such offers the highest risk and reward. The strategy is relatively simple to disrupt and we’re seeing many decks incidentally play cards for other matchups (such as Randing Volley) that happen to also deal with the Rat quite cleanly. Though the deck can – and has attempted to in the past – convert to a more generic midrange deck out of the sideboard, its real strength lies in its ability to turn three a Parhellion II consistently.
Deck Overview: Spirits are like Humans, except they fly. Playing more of a tempo based game with more reliance on interaction and drawing cards than establishing big threats, the Spirits deck has also grabbed Collected Company to fight through removal and outpace its opponent.
Why it’s in this tier: Bant Spirits tied Greasefang with six qualifying finishes this past weekend, including two from the challenges and one from the NRG. Much like Greasefang, Spirits has been seeing a downturn at the top tables lately thanks to the rise of Izzet Phoenix. While the deck can still pick on Mono Green with ease, the top tables being a toss up between Devotion, Rakdos, and Izzet means that two of the top three decks are tough matchups.
While the deck is the best tempo deck in the format, right now we are seeing decks need to fall more squarely into extremes as a means to get under Izzet Phoenix / Mono Green or go over the top of Rakdos and the other Midrange options. As mentioned with Greasefang, the additional copies of Rending Volley floating around alongside potential Supreme Verdicts means that Bant Spirits has some issues finding a firm footing right now as the rewards of hitting the good matchup aren’t as common as the punishment from hitting the bad ones.
Deck Overview: Keruga Fires is a value pile similar to those we have seen in Modern frequently. The deck uses Adventure creatures as early interaction to stave off aggression while it builds resources to overwhelm its opponent in the mid-late game.
Why it’s in this tier: From flash in the pan to staple deck, Keruga Fires continues to rise this week tying Mono White Humans with eight finishes. This includes five finishes from the challenges as well as one from the NRG. While I hesitate to speculate about the NRG, I do wonder how many people were able to just pick up this deck as it appeared seemingly out of nowhere over the past few weeks and isn’t the cheapest list we’ve seen around.
The emergence of this deck in correlation with the banning of Yorion and thus the 4c Omnath decks in Modern is relatively suspicious, though we’re hesitant to pin Keruga’s appearance strictly on that. The deck has many tools suited well to combating the threats available in Pioneer, from Supreme verdict to Leyline Binding, as well as some strong finishers like Kenrith, the Returned King and Omnath, Locus of Creation. If this deck is able to survive the early turns other lists will severely struggle to keep up with its incredible value generation. As more and more players pick the deck up to try out the “new meme” and find it shockingly playable, we expect this deck to rise even further as it becomes tuned towards the format at large.
Decks in this tier are on an average power level for the format or are heavily underrepresented. Like our B-tier these decks can reward dedication to the archetype, but they will require a more concerted effort. Players should be aware of these decks, but not over-tune for these matchups.
Deck Overview: The format’s premier pure control deck, Azorius Control leverages counterspells, wrath effects, and powerful Planeswalkers to take over the game and keep opponents from realizing their gameplan.
Why it’s in this tier: Control has been a fan favorite of Magic players everywhere for nearly 30 years, and the Pioneer format has some solid takes on the strategy from Azorius to Dimir and more. We saw last week both of these strategies take a step forward with some minor successes, and Azorius has backed that up with seven additional qualifying finishes this week. While the strategy still boasts a relatively weak matchup against either Devotion or Rakdos, the rest of the format could be considered quite weak to what control has going on and matchups can definitely line up correctly over the course of any event.
Azorius really shines against the various decks looking to go over the top of Rakdos and the other midrange strategies. Sans Devotion, many of these decks will struggle to take a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria head on as they cannot generate card advantage fast enough to reliably find answers to the powerful planeswalker. Keruga Fires and Enigmatic Incarnation come to mind as such decks that flop in the face of a singular counterspell or board wipe. We’ve seen control take a few small steps forward as decks like these two continue to come out of the woodwork, and we are interested to see if that continues through the release of the new set.
Deck Overview: This deck takes the pieces of Rakdos Sacrifice and adds green for Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. It focuses on taking advantage of creatures dying to generate value via the likes of Cauldron Familiar / Witch’s Oven, and Mayhem Devil.
Why it’s in this tier: For similar reasons as Azorius, we’ve seen an uptick in Sacrifice recently due to its ability to dispatch midrange strategies including Rakdos. The deck saw five finishes this week, which while not a ton is a good amount of progress from previous weeks. The biggest issue holding it back at the moment is Devotion, as Karn takes the deck’s best threat – Cat Oven – offline completely. Without that backbone, the deck tends to more easily fold over to the types of ancillary threats present in the format. If we see the unlikely scenario where Devotion takes a step or two back in terms of popularity, We certainly expect to see Sacrifice thrive as the go-to answer to grindy strategies. This is, however, among things that definitely aren’t going to happen any time soon unless there’s a ban – which we anticipate won’t be the case at least until after the RC and Brothers War release.
Deck Overview: Enigmatic Incarnation is the format’s premier toolbox strategy, utilizing a value plan of turning enchantments into creatures that can answer any situation. The deck is slow, but extremely rewarding for anyone looking to put in the hours to master it.
Why it’s in this tier: Enigmatic has been splitting success with Keruga Fires for a few weeks now. The deck remains impressive against Rakdos Midrange and other decks looking to go long, but its inability to consistently topple Mono Green or Izzet Phoenix means that the number of qualifying finishes for this deck is going to be somewhat limited. With only three, including zero in the challenge, this deck may be heading down towards D tier in the near future, especially if Keruga proves to be the Fires deck of choice.
For now though, this deck’s ability to attack Rakdos Midrange remains its saving grace. Enigmatic is a difficult deck to compete with, especially for those who don’t have that in-depth experience with the format who may be more focused on getting to the Pro Tour than actively participating in Pioneer as a format. The deck can certainly lack though, as it doesn’t quite have the speed or consistency yet to become a deck that everyone finds worthwhile to invest their time into.
Deck Overview: Lotus Field is a land-based combo deck that aims to untap its namesake as many times as possible to generate mana in order to fuel its storm-style gameplan. It uses this excess mana to cast huge game ending spells like Omniscience and Approach of the Second Sun
Why it’s in this tier: Over the last couple of weeks Lotus has been creeping up in terms of playability. Though one of its worst matchups remains the number one deck in the format, Rakdos and Phoenix have a difficult time dispatching the strategy. The deck put up five qualifying finishes this week, which is certainly more than it’s seen over the last month or so.
The biggest things holding Lotus back at the moment are the presence of Humans and Spirits as reasonable to good choices in the format at large right now. Both strategies provide just enough disruption to make the deck quiver while offering quick enough a clock to break through before the cards can really start flying. If we see any major shake ups in the format any time soon we might expect that Lotus finds its place a little higher than we’ve seen it recently, but until then it’s unlikely to move around too much more than it has.
Decks in this tier will find the current meta hostile to their overall game plan. These decks can find success in the right environment, but the winner’s podium will be few and far between.
Deck Overview: Atarka Red is the format’s all in beatdown deck of choice right now. Boasting access to huge swings of damage via Burning-Tree Emissary into Reckless Bushwhacker and Atarka’s command, the deck can deliver a pounding unlike many other aggro decks available right now.
Why it’s in this tier: Unfortunately, Atarka Red continues to fall flat compared to its early results in the format. Between Phoenix, Rakdos, and Vehicles all claiming good matchups against the strategy, it can be difficult to have enough matchups line up in such a way that the red deck can see success. This is another of those where in the case of a major format shake up we could see some real movement upwards, but until then it’s unlikely that the deck will find a way to break through the wall of midrange that sits near the top of the meta.
Deck Overview: The Mono-Blue variant of the Spirits deck looks to take more advantage of the little things piling up rather than the big things making big and obvious swings. Its lack of Collected Company makes it more reliant on early aggression and the likes of Curious Obsession to gain that necessary advantage.
Why it’s in this tier: Mono Blue saw some better luck this week, ending up with three qualifying finishes. The deck had an excellent showing at Worlds in the Explorer format, and it’s possible that people saw this and decided to take the ghosts out for another spin. The deck still boasts an excellent matchup into Green Devotion, though with Phoenix beginning to pop up more as it has we expect that this burst may be short lived as the Collected Company version of the deck is more adapted to the threats of the format at large.
Deck Overview: Piling up counters onto cheap and efficient creatures until they can run through opponents, Boros Heroic looks to kill any deck that doesn’t have a glut of interaction early and often.
Why it’s in this tier: We saw Heroic put up one qualifying finish at the NRG this week. It has become clear that with the rise of Rakdos and Izzet Phoenix, Mono White Humans is the stronger Aggro deck in the format at the moment and Heroic doesn’t quite have the tools to stand up in a metagame littered with red and black removal. While the deck has a great Mono Green matchup, it does struggle into the other top decks and even potentially into decks like Keruga Fires thanks to Leyline Binding alongside Supreme Verdict and other removal spells.
It would take a metagame shift for Heroic to find its footing again in Pioneer and as it sits now, I’d expect this deck to drop off the tier list before it moved up.
Deck Overview: The classic control deck with a combo finish, Creativity looks to dominate the board state in the early turns while it sets the stage to end the game by cheating in a finisher for a one-turn-kill.
Why it’s in this tier: Creativity has up until now been a largely for-fun “proof of concept” deck that is capable of putting up results but not consistent enough to cleanly dispatch every threat that the format presents while also juggling its combo at the same time. While it’s likely that the deck will see some more love via the next set, at the moment it will continue to struggle against some of the more popular strategies in a competent and competitive setting.
Deck Overview: Mono Red is a classic archetype that looks to flood the board with small creatures backed up by burn spells in order to go underneath some of the bigger threats in the format.
Why it’s in this tier: Continuing the pattern of strong decks that have stumbled downward, Mono Red Aggro continues to have a weak showing with only one qualifying finish in the Preliminaries. While this deck can certainly steal games, much like Atarka Red, you have difficulty getting through Rakdos Midrange. Even Mono Green and Izzet Phoenix can be challenging to battle through as their threats will quickly outpace the red deck’s. While the deck will always have the potential to spike an event, we are seeing these linear aggro decks without cards like Brave the Elements falling to the wayside as more cheap interaction sits near the top of the metagame.
Deck Overview: Dimir Control is more focused on stack-based interaction and trading resources than its Azorius cousin. Between premium single target removal and a strong suite of counter spells, this deck struggles to find things that it can’t deal with.
Why it’s in this tier: After a strong weekend, Dimir Control disappeared from the Challenges and didn’t show up at the NRG. With five qualifying finishes from the Preliminaries, it’s clear that Dimir along with Azorius Control is well outpacing the Aggro decks of the format outside of Mono White Humans, but the deck still hasn’t solidified itself as a top contender. With various builds in consideration including Narset, Parter of Veils alongside Day’s Undoing, there’s plenty of room for innovation within this archetype moving into the Brother’s War.
Last week we saw the first appearance of Dimir control, coincidentally in conjunction with the release of the Pioneer Challenger decks which feature the deck as a primary offering. Dimir, up until then, had been relatively absent from the format’s competitive circuit, though many die-hard fans of the strategy have kept the deck in the chamber since it’s main popularity spike a couple of years ago. With five qualifying finishes this week strictly from the prelims, it’s clear that Dimir is capable of leaving a wake in the format at the very least. There’s plenty of room for innovation here as well, and we encourage anyone looking to cast some counterspells to give the archetype a try.
Deck Overview: Niv to Light is a classic Midrange-Killer, go-big strategy that utilizes multi-color spells in conjunction with its namesake Niv-Mizzet Reborn to act as a tap out control deck.
Why it’s in this tier: Niv returns to the tier list this week off the back of two qualifying finishes including one in the challenge and one in the preliminaries. While that isn’t an amazing showing for the deck, any time it starts to pick up traction it does get a boost from having such a strong Rakdos matchup. This deck has a knack for beating out various Aggro and midrange decks, while it can struggle against decks like Mono Green Karn or Lotus Field, as it doesn’t have much to deal with combo. If Niv continues to show up, it will continue to contribute to the slight decline in Rakdos we have been seeing these past few weeks.
Niv hakes his triumphant return to the tier list off the back of two qualifying finishes this week. While the deck has had some trouble recently holding its ground, it is an absolute fan favorite and does pick up some traction whenever Rakdos has the big target on its back. This deck is one whose primary function is to combat aggro and midrange matchups, as the deck lacks the proper tools to deal with the likes of ramp decks like Devotion or combo decks like Lotus Field with any sort of consistency. While we don’t think that that’s enough to take it to the top of the format by any means, it is a strategy that will stick around through sheer force of player will in the worst case, and is not a deck that should be out of anyone’s consideration at any time.
There you have it, our weekly breakdown of all the top contenders in Pioneer and why they fall into their distinctive places in the overall metagame. While these tiers can change somewhat frequently, be sure to also check out our monthly overview of how decks performed on a month-to-month basis found here.
A little note as to why Selesnya Angels didn’t make it onto the tier list despite winning the NRG – singular results are often hard to put into the context of tiers. While the deck won the NRG and that’s a fantastic result, its lack of other results from the last few weeks has made its positioning dubious. The deck has solid matchups against the likes of Devotion and Phoenix, but we are yet to see if that is enough to take it consistently across the finish line. Hopefully the NRG result bolsters the deck and we will see it on the tier list soon!
Best of luck at your upcoming events and be sure to stay safe out there!